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Birds of a feather.
Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

To understand Silicon Valley’s diversity problem, simply follow the money.

Over 80% of venture capitalists in the US are men and 70% are white according to an analysis of roughly 1,500 VCs from from Richard Kerby, a partner at Equal Ventures. But perhaps more surprising than the lack of racial or gender diversity is the fact that 40% of VCs surveyed went to either Harvard or Stanford.

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“Everyone wants to work with those they are most similar to, and education, gender, and race are attributes that allow people to find similarities in others,” Kerby wrote in a Medium post. “With 82% of the industry being male, nearly 60% of the industry being white male, and 40% of the industry coming from just two academic institutions, it is no wonder that this industry feels so insular and less of meritocracy but more of a mirrortocracy [sic].”

Kerby, who is one of the industry’s few black VCs, conducted the analysis by manually pulling information from the websites of nearly 200 firms—some with funds over $3 billion, others who manage less than $25 million. It is a lengthy list of VCs in the US, but by no means exhaustive. He did a similar VC diversity inventory two years ago. Compared with the 2016 report:

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  • The percentage of white VCs fell from 74% to 70%
  • Asian representation climbed from 23% to 26%
  • Women representation climbed from 11% to 18%
  • Black representation grew slightly from 2% to 3%
  • Hispanics remain at just 1% of the industry

Though diversity is important in any industry, the lack of diversity in venture capital can ripple through the entire tech sector. VCs are known to invest in startups and founders that match their heuristics for what has worked in the past, a phenomena known as “pattern matching.” When those doing the matching lack diversity, the ideas getting funded will likely follow suit. Startups founded by women, for example, received just 2% of VC funding in 2017 according to data from Pitchbook.

But schools like Harvard, where over 50% of the class of 2021 are students of color, have their own diversity issues. In June, court documents revealed that over 33% of applicants where at least one parent was a Harvard alum gained admission to the Classes of 2014 through 2019. The average admissions rate at Harvard is about 5%. The cycle of like rewarding like starts at an early age.

Perhaps Kerby’s report will be seen as a wake-up call. After all, as any VC would tell you, you can’t change what you don’t measure.